I looked back over my left shoulder to see if the light had changed or if the WALK sign was lit. I did this reflexively. The thing is I had run the light. I admit it. That’s not how I roll anymore. I’m firmly in the put-a-foot-down-and-wait camp, because that’s the safest thing to do, and that’s the behavior I need drivers to observe from cyclists. We’ll all get along better if we all follow the rules.
Which I hate, if I’m honest, but I’m mature enough to swallow that and do the right thing.
Except the other day, when I came out of the end of the bike path and into a wide, confusing intersection. It’s poorly designed. That’s not a reason to run the light there, but that was my rationale in the moment. The bike path shouldn’t just spill you there. The light should have some guidance for cyclists. Blah. Blah. Blah. If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in the sea.
I realized, in retrospect, that when I glanced over my shoulder what I was doing was trying to understand the period of the light.
Back in my heavy commuting days, when I was slogging my way through heavy city traffic five days a week, I had all the lights memorized. This one has an extra-long yellow. That one goes red, but the WALK sign means you can still skitch through without getting killed. If you position yourself at certain angles you can see the countdown on the pedestrian signal from a distance and know whether you’re going to have to stop or not.
It’s been a few years since I had all that in my head, but I’ve started helping out at my old job again, and I’m using it as a reason to get out, into traffic, on my bike.
The truth is, these skills are vestigial. I’m not sprinting into intersections anymore. I’m not taking advantage of WALK signals, because I’m not walking. When I tell you I put a foot down now, I put a foot down. I don’t do a sad track stand. I don’t ride slow, tight circles in the crosswalk. There is no reason for me to understand each light, beyond identifying its present color.
It sure is fun though, and it reminds me of my younger days, when I’d hang off the rear, passenger side wheel well of a lumbering bus, when I’d slip through pedestrian hordes at speed, when, frankly, people probably found me annoying. I didn’t die, and so now I can chuckle to myself, glance back over my shoulder and begin to understand when the going is good, and when it’s not.
Except for grabbing onto vehicles, I still do all of that on my commute. I respectfully disagree about following all the rules. For example if I roll to the front of the line (legal in my state) and hit the gas just as the light changes, I’m out of drivers’ way and they can accelerate without worrying about what I’m going to do. There are countless ways that following the rules actually increases tension between cyclists and drivers.